FARMERS are set to use more organic methods as they face rising costs amid growing food demand, a meeting has heard.

Cumbria Organics, the county’s organic farmers network, held a lively discussion on sustainable food production at its an-nual meeting at Cumbria Rural Enterprise Agency, Penrith.

Newcastle University professor Carlo Leifert spoke about ‘sustainable intensification’ and said data showed organic practices better met the challenge of higher input costs.

Outgoing chairman Liam McNulty said: “The talk was about the efficiency of farming methods looked at in the whole – conventional farmers and organic farmers input a lot of fertilisers and a lot of feed and if you factor all those things in, how does it look in a sustainable context?

“He asked if the food globally could continue in that way and his view was that it could not.”

Mr McNulty said Prof Leifert was encouraged by methods used by the group in Cumbria and, in terms of sustainability and efficiency, thought organic farming was better.

Cumbria Organics believes growing demand and climate change will put organic farming ‘at the forefront’ of future food production.

Mr McNulty said more farmers would be ‘pushed towards’ organic methods.

“We have massive respect for conventional farmers but the data seems to show that trying to recycle nutrients naturally is a much more sustain-able system,” he said.

“I don’t think it will take more people down the ‘certified organic farmer’ route but farmers are feeling the pressure at the minute and the principles that underpin our farming methods make us more resilient to outside factors over which we have little control.”

Mr McNulty added: “Practices place greater emphasis on first reducing inputs rather than maximising outputs, meaning although organic farms may appear less produc-tive, their efficiency is often better.

“Effectively, this could force conventional farm-ers closer to organic methods. Politicians want to encourage efficient, low-input farms that still produce quantities of good-quality food - that's exactly what organic farming is about.”